Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dragonflies and birds

We have a great little garden in front of our place now, attempting to hold on to life in the desert heat. I'm actually amazed at how well it is doing! There are also a number of critters that come through...the never missing parade of cats (they're not really pets here, they just....are...), birds and dragonflies (I won't mention the mosquitoes that have suddenly taken a liking to me).
I think living in a desert environment adds a strong requirment or need for perseverance to survive. The critters in our yard certainly have that trait. The dragonfly came in and landed on a dead stick. It's being used to hold up a flower but at one time it was part of the tree that died (obviously it hadn't heard about perservering). It landed and it stayed, and stayed, and stayed and.... I had plenty of time to walk inside, find my camera, come back out and take a bunch of stayed and stayed...I called Jeff, he came out and took even more pictures.
The bird is either in love with the mirror or himself...or looking for his friend (we have 2 birds here). He'll come and talk to the mirror for an hour each day and then just fly away. The pictures aren't great...he doesn't allow us to come outside but...not bad considering I took it through the window.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jeff's Fabulous Pictures

I am the blogger of the family, my pictures are ok, show the sites, are sometimes funny, but they lack the quality that Jeff imparts to a photo. Here are some of his fabulous pictures from our trip to Turkey - check them out at the following link:
Jeff's Turkey Pictures

The first one is of that spectacular map I talked about...someplace in the blog.

Monday, April 5, 2010


While we spent a long time hiking around, looking at the wonderful rocks and fabulous fields, we also explored some of the ruins and castles that dotted the landscape even here. There was an island in the lake with what looks like the remains of a fortress or monastery on it. It has an eerie, ghostly look to it - I'm sure there are stories that the locals tell about it, particularly at night, sitting around a warm fire.
One of the local instruments in Turkey is called the Saz. It's a long necked instrument with similarities to a lute. It's unusual because it has 7 strings. We were entertained by a local player who spent an evening playing and singing local folk and drinking songs. The sons of the owner speak English so they interpreted some of the stories for us. We had a very enjoyable evening, listening to the songs, enjoying the tunes and finally heading off for bed.

Bafa Lake, Turkey

We returned to Turkey and headed out immediately for yet another road trip, this time south of Izmir to Bafa Lake. The lake is somewhere around 15 km long with constantly changing terrain as you move around its borders.
The lake is host to over 200 different kinds of birds - and it is part of a nature park and bird refuge. At one time, the lake opened into the Aegean Sea and was a popular port but over the years, silt from the river slowly built up and finally separated it from the sea. The villages in the area have remained small and quite traditional, though, of course, wireless internet was indeed available at the hotel we stayed
The village we stayed in is located at the north eastern side of the lake, in the middle of the Latmos mountains with stunning vistas and fabulous rocks - a climbers paradise. We spent a day roaming around the lake and mountains, checking out the rocks and routes, enjoying a hike in the warmth as well as dodging cow patties. The daily routine here includes taking the lowing cattle out to the fields for the day, then bringing them back for milking and settling them down in the small yards by the houses. The older women spend much time sitting on the side of the road, beading and knitting and crocheting..and then working on selling their wares to the tourists who walk by. Sad to say, there really weren't that many tourists when we were there. Sure hope that they also have a market in town that they can go to. Perhaps they head out for some of the farmer's markets periodically.

We'll be back

This small village, the name I must admit has escaped me, had a wonderful clock tower located in the center of town...if you could find it. You could see the tower from outside, but once you went inside and started roaming through the tiny pathways, it was as elusive as a butterfly - there one moment, gone the next. Sad to say, once we found the plaza, getting out was just as hard!!!
Our proprietor, Don, recommended this restaurant we tried out one night. The menu was extensive...and in English. We thought at first that it wasn't a very popular place - it was, after all, almost 9 and we were the only diners. It turned out we were early - no one eats until well after 9! Not sure how anyone slept with such full stomachs.
Now that we have ventured into the Mediterranean we have to go back. The island was just such a treat...the tiny streets, the friendly people, the delicious foods...we're looking to do some island hopping over one of our vacations just to experience more of the wonderful ambiance....still holding out for the family reunion .. 2013???

Anavatos...the Ghost Town

Anavatos village was built on a huge cliff, almost 500 meters above the sea. The cliff has steep sides, not allowing access to the village from either the south or the west. The only access to the village was through a well hidden road on the north side, a village that was almost a fortress. Inside over 400 houses could be found on narrow streets with flat roofs and low doors. Sadly, in 1822 there was a terrible slaughter that killed almost the entire population - and those who weren't killed by the invaders killed themselves rather than let themselves be captured. The city was abandoned and now sits as a lonely outpost, overlooking the peaceful valley below. 

Nea Moni Monastery

We seem to have a thing about having navi systems to guide us around different countries we travel to. Greece was no different. We had downloaded the driving maps to help us as we made our way around the country. Actually, the systems are quite good and fairly remarkable considering the fact that they can find tiny little out of the way roads and passageways. On the negative side, they sometimes find tiny little passageways and questionable roads. Our trip out to the monastery was definitely on one of the questionable roads - I think cow track would have been a better description. Now, had we had our SUV from Doha, I wouldn't have thought much about it, however, we were in a little Kia...cute little car...and I can now attest to the fact that they can be driven cross country on cow paths. 

The monastery was built sometime in the 11th century yet the main buildings are well maintained and services are still held in the main chapel. It still maintains many old traditions, including a refusal to install electricity. It has, of course, a bloody history of monks attempting to prevent conquerors from taking it over and there are grizzly piles of skulls and bones to commemorate those who lost their lives. 

The Windmills

You'll notice in the posting following this one that I eloquently discuss the advantages of instant information, the ability to find anything on the internet, anywhere you happen to be - if, of course, there's wireless available. How thrilled I was at being able to locate an answer to any question. Well...I'm stuck. Chios has these darned windmills that are practically symbols of the island, heck, "symbols of Greece" - they're everywhere on the internet - but all I can find are the pictures with no information concerning why they happen to be there! Ah well...I'll join the crowd and post the pictures and wonder...if the library is open and has a book about windmills.

Here's an update...apparently I'm not the only one with the question and I found an answer (on the internet, of course) "The windmills are a widely recognized symbol of Greece.Early windmills were fixed structures..." Well...guess that told me.

Island Life

Driving around the island was a real treat. We wove over small mountain passes, through pasture land and olive orchards, viewing outcrops of fallen walls and castles being taken over by long green vines and trees. Periodically we would descend from a high plateau, ending at a small village at the water. The sea was such a gorgeous shade of blue and the park benches and small cafes beckoned to us. It was so calming to sit by the water, sipping tea and...of course, checking out wireless access (yes, the cafe had to have wireless connection before we would order!!). It's a good thing that we were  all into reading lots of books and checking out things on the internet - and I must admit it was nice to ask a question and to be able to look it up right away! Have I ever gotten did we ever function, having to wait until you could make it to the library??? Did I ever remember all the questions I had???
Discovered a few things about island life, particularly in the tiny villages that dotted the landscape - stores were not very plentiful - there are very limited numbers of people to purchase items so basics could be found but otherwise a trip to the big city was called for. However, there are always enterprising souls out's a gentleman who had clothes for sale...from he back of his car. He drove up and down the streets of the towns, calling out items he carried over and over again. Wonder how he paid for all the gas?
At one of our stops we discovered from one of the locals that the gorgeous mansions perched on the hill overlooking the ocean were actually for rent by the week or whatever for tourists to use - family reunion anyone??? On a Greek Isle? Azure skies, cerulean and teal oceans (yeah, had to look up some new descriptors for blue). Hmmmm.....might be a problem with the price tag but...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pirghi, home of Christopher Columbus?

We wove our way through the fields and around the coast toward the village of Pirghi (lots of ways to spell this one- no one seems to have made up their mind, probably because it's all Greek). It is a major tourist attraction because of the buildings as well as it being the "home" of Christopher Columbus. There has been a lot of dispute about where Columbus was from but apparently they're quite sure that not only was he from Chios, it's specifically from Pirghi. While there's supposed to be a building with his name on it, we didn't go searching for it.
The other claim to fame for this town is the geometric decoration "xysta"  /ksista/ that is on all of the buildings. The houses are all built one upon the other - there's really little room for privacy. Most people meet all the time in the town squares, which usually includes eating or drinking places and a church. The xysta is a traditional form of decoration that is symmetrical and geometrical, creating beautiful patterns across the building.
This is also an area where they produce masticha, a white resin that comes from a tree, grown exclusively here in Chios. It is used for chewing gum, seasoning for many things, crushed to use in liquor, mixed with honey or sugar for a drink but also can be found in varnishes. Apparently even Columbus was supposed to have started with the masticha trade.
In Pirghi there's also the Byzantine church of the Holy Apostles. The view from the tunnel was spectacular and I'd have loved to have gone inside but, alas, it was locked. There is, however, a web page with information about this lovely building.Church of the Holy Apostle

Driving, of course trip to any country is complete without writing about the driving conditions. Actually, this particular Greek island wasn't too bad to drive around in, if you've gotten used to roads in Japan. The roads are very narrow one lane roads that are open for two way traffic and they wind in and around large, tall rock walls, kinda like Bali. Fortunately there's not much traffic so it's easy to go slow, especially once you get out of town. The signs are fairly readable once you get used to the different letters but I must admit I loved being able to say "It's all Greek to me".
Don gave us a map with travel routes marked out for us for two days worth of touring to hit all of the hot spots in Greece. We also had our trusty navi system as well as the internet connections and maps we could download. We did have to map it all out both at the hotel as well as at a local night club (both, of course, had wireless available-a prerequisite for any hotel reservation or restaurant).

We noticed as we drove around that we repeatedly saw some tiny little churches, about the size of a shrine, sitting on the side of the road. Having seen crosses in different places in other countries (including the US), we thought possibly they marked a spot where someone had died in an accident. We asked and found out that no, that was not the case at all. It marked a place where someone did indeed have an accident but they were saved so they built the shrine to show their thanks for surviving the accidents. There were some very small, simple ones as well as some large, ornately decorated ones - and we saw people all along the way taking care of these small shrines.

Chios Island, Greece

I really love ferries, they're not fast but they're just a delightful way to travel. You could fly to Chios and probably get there quicker but there's something about taking a boat. We spent an enjoyable hour talking and watching seagulls and looking at the passing coastline - not much distance between these islands. We arrived at the island to discover a quaint town, nestled around the small but busy harbor. We walked around from one side to the other to find out hotel, Chios Rooms. It's like a bed an breakfast without the breakfast. The owner, Don, was absolutely delightful and extremely helpful. He mapped out every place we wanted to visit on the island, recommended the best restaurants, where to rent a car and generally provided us with everything we needed. The rooms are in an old renovated house with a great view of that same small harbor. There's a corniche to walk around along the harbor while across the narrow street there are lines of stores and restaurants and bars with a fierce nightlife (it was spring break and there's a college in town). They definitely kept late hours.
The kitchen area in the place also served as the meeting area where everyone came to talk, drink tea, coffee or wine and swap stories and travel destinations.

Chios Island, Greece

Beautiful blue skies, lots of green trees, light breezes, and ume blossoms. No, it doesn't qualify as Sakura blossoms but plum blossoms are pretty close. The streets were filled with lots of beautiful trees...
We headed off in the morning towards the coastal city of Cesme. From here we would be taking a ferry out to the Greek island of Chios. While there's a long history of fighting and atrocities between the Greeks and Turks, for the most part they get along these days - for the most part. Depends, of course, who is telling the story. For our part, we found all of them to be totally wonderful and helpful.
Getting out to our ferry was a trip in itself. You know, I waxed eloquently about the bus system here but, to be fair, the city is large and buses aren't fast....and fortunately we left an hour earlier than we thought we needed to....and it turns out that was a very good idea. The bus ride from Patrick's place to the Cesme bus took almost an hour, followed by another hour from there to Cesme (sounds like a long time but then again, it took an hour to drive the 40 minute bus route back home - and I technically wasn't stopping on every street corner - just lost a lot). We finally did succeed in getting our tickets, and making it to the ferry terminal. Then the question came up...which ferry??? Thanks again to Patrick's skills, we discovered that we had to weave through about 30 trucks to get to the far side where our ferry lay waiting for us. Ah well...old but dependable. 
As we left we had a good view of Cesme Castle, an Ottoman castle built in the 1500's.


At the museums, we also found an absolutely stunning map on the wall. It was totally made out of a clay type of material with gorgeous embosses identifying significant, historical, locations across Turkey. The work was spectacular. Patrick is planning on stitching a picture together to show the whole thing...when he does I'll post the link. For the time being, I will just post a couple of representative pictures, one showing Chios, the Greek isle we will be sailing to next, and one of Smyrna, Izmir today. 

Camel Wrestling

We headed off into the hills around the downtown area to peruse the Archaeology and Ethnography museums, conveniently located next to each other. There you could see some beautiful jewelry and sculptures throughout the history of Turkey, included when they were ruled by both the Greeks and the Romans. The Ethnography museum had a lot of artifacts that included local arts and crafts and shared more of the customs of the Turkish people, though, admittedly, they were influenced by the various groups of people who ruled the area over time. One thing has lived on and is practiced even today - camel wrestling.
I have to admit, when I saw that, along with the picture of the two camels going at it, I pictured something akin to a bloody bullfight or cockfight - and I really wasn't too interested in it. However, I did look it up and discovered it wasn't at all what it looked like. goes. 
It starts out with men walking through various villages with their huge male camels, complete with elaborate saddles, more or less bragging that their camel can beat up your camel any day. Well, of course, there's always some other camel owner who disagrees, so a match is planned, along with lots of publicity so that people who want to can come see big huge camels grunt and groan while they wrestle each other to the ground. (I won't mention that there's also lots of betting on these wrestling matches.)
Now...the camels have to be enticed to fight each other. Turns out that in nature, it's common for camels to head butt each other and push one another around to be head honcho of the pack and to, of course, have exclusive mating rights. Knowing that, the camel owners parade a cute young cow in front of the two males to get them all excited. You can tell when they're excited because white foam and saliva starts coming out of their nostrils and mouth (hmmm...saw lots of that when they were running too....naah). They then proceed to push and shove each other around. Sometimes they'll even get a leg around their opponents leg and then use their weight to topple them over. They keep this up until one of them finally turns and runs away. This is where the excitement starts...usually the bull turns and runs...right toward the crowd. The crowd, realizing that this one ton camel is heading right towards them, with a second one in pursuit, begins to scatter. The antics of the crowd trying to get out of their way is described as the most exciting part of the whole thing. 

Turkish Food and Farmer's Markets

It was absolutely wonderful to discover the huge quantity of fresh fruits and vegetable available in Turkey. The farmer's markets were wonderful AND held twice a week within walking distance of Patrick's house - heavenly. They even have some farmers producing organic produce. The markets were huge - almost twice the size of the one in Santa Barbara. You would not believe the olives that were available there. I never knew there were so many different kinds! I'm not a fan of regular black olives but I must admit I like some of the seasonings that they add to their olives.
The market was totally packed - and everybody walked to get to it. Izmir, with its well developed bus system, is a walking town. People use the bus to get everywhere, hence there are lots of walkers everywhere. Not only that, Patrick knows everyone!!! It's amazing how many times we stopped to talk to someone he knew or someone who knew someone he knew. He's been busy developing lots of connections.
We enjoyed the fruits of our journey for breakfast - the "typical" breakfast includes olives (of course), white cheese, frequently feta, fresh bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, cream curd with a tad of honey and walnuts as well as a couple of types of jams.
The biggest disconnect of the whole things are the meals in restaurants. When I saw all the fresh produce, I anticipated lots of veggie options and cooked in the homes, there are but..if you go out, at least to the little "fast food" places, that's not so. The breakfasts there have lots of sweet pastries or potato, cheese, or meat filled flaky pastries, Borek, - good but oh my goodness you can get full. Most menus are very heavy with meat - lots of lamb to be found there. There are tons of different pastry dishes, primarily stuffed with meats. There's also the traditional kebobs, that can be found everywhere. Dolmas are popular, stuffed grape leaves. Sometimes they are stuffed with rice, other times with meat. Good thing I had my tasters with me. They do have quite a few soups and lentil soup is quite popular - and generally made without meat. Thank goodness Patrick could speak Turkish to ask!! They do have quite a few great salads and they're always so tasty - the tomatoes even taste like tomatoes!
Ah...and then there are the sweets. The Turkish people love their sweets and oh lala are there ever a ton of different ones to try! Even I, with my usual quest for sweets, found it to be too much. However, they are delicious - the baklavah was absolutely melting and the halvah was addicting. I need to stay clear away from those!

Izmir Asansor

Using the GPS system (the Garmin system we brought and Patricks ipod touch map) we made our way to the Asansor. The Asansor, French for elevator, is another of Izmir's older structures. This particular elevator was built in 1907 to help the women and children (as well as, obviously, the men) to climb up to the Halil Rifat Pasa Caddesi, the mountain that overlooks the town. Originally, people had to climb 155 steps to get up there. Now at the top is a small viewing area and a restaurant and bar that affords an excellent view over Izmir and the sea. The area surrounding the elevator has also become known as Asansor, and is a lovely area of cobbled streets and old fashioned buildings, including Izmir's largest synagogue.
You can see for miles from here, though it was hard to tell which islands we were seeing in the distance. I believe it might just be a curve of the land, meaning we were still looking at the opposite side of Izmir. The land and city curls around the bay, with ferry service between all points. The final picture is of the small city street leading up to base of the Asensor. 

Izmir, Turkey

Our latest adventure has taken us to the land of Turkey. Our friend, Patrick, now lives in Izmir and invited us to visit him this spring break. He has waxed eloquently about the wonders of Turkey and the fabulous people and now we know why. It was absolutely stunning.
We started the day out with a trip to downtown, the bazaars as well as the Aegean Sea. We started off at the clock tower, located right near the bay in a downtown park that encompasses the bazaar, and the promenade along the sea. The tower was a gift to the Turkish ruler at the time (somewhere around 1900) from the German ruler. It is set in a nice park and is the local hang-out and meeting place. It's connected to a large park on one side that crosses the main road and then rambles along the water way (the Aegean Sea enters in this area into a port - even had a French Cruise ship in here). It's covered with awnings in places and you can see how the newly growing vines are being trained to cover some of the walkways - very nicely done. The other direction has a small mosque and the entrance into the bazaar.
The bazaars are extremely similar to the suqs found here in Doha. All of the small shops open out into the walkways and plaza areas, lots of eateries - most with outside seating, lots of people hawking their goods. It's amazing the things you can find. My favorite was the juice sellers - with fresh squeezed pomegranite juice for about $1.20. Amazingly delicious!
We joked around that our trip was a journey from one internet hotspot to the next. Here's one of our early Jeff and Patrick checked out where we were and how best to get to our next destination.